Bouncing Around Belfast

Belfast Castle

After returning to Canada in late August, 2022, after almost two years of travelling, my dear wife (who really didn’t want to return home at all) and I went to Chilliwack, BC, in Canada, and stayed with a friend for a while. I helped him finish a carriage house he’d added to his property in our absence, and we drank a lot. Like, a tonne.

He’s a raging alkie (alcoholic), so, as a result of my willingness to engage in a good time (and to drown my boredom), I too was an alkie for a few months.

We didn’t go anywhere particularly exciting or do anything overly noteworthy during the months we were there. At least I don’t remember doing anything exceptional. Go figure. It was basically back to the humdrum, meat-and-potatoes routines of regular life in Canada.

Ugh! It was boring as hell.

By December, we were more than ready to leave. So we did.

We’d met a moron (friend of the friend) in Chilliwack that, initially, had us convinced he wasn’t a complete waste of time, and he talked us into joining him on a winter trip to Vietnam. Luckily, my wife had the brilliant idea to stop over for a week or so in the Irelands first. It was one of the high points of the entire trip, for sure. And one of the high points of all of my travels, really.

One might think that Belfast in December, on the tail-end of global pan-hysteria, might not be memorable enough to immortalize in a blog post. But, as far as I’m concerned, it definitely was. My wife and I loved everything about it, even though we were accompanied by a penny-pinching dial-tone of a travel companion (this was a short-lived arrangement) who wouldn’t recognize a good time (or know what to do about it) if it kicked him in the face.

Very soon, my dear wife and I will be returning to the Irelands, just the two of us, to enjoy it fully.

That being what it was, we did enjoy our trip to the emerald isle, all the same.

As always, my dear wife was in charge of booking accommodations, as she is very thorough and rarely drops the ball. So, after landing in Dublin airport, we hopped a bus right outside the arrivals doors and, for something like €13, got taken right to downtown Belfast, where we then grabbed a cab to our little place.

The Village House, in the Central Belfast Apartments, was a cozy, well-equipped townhouse on Donegall Road, about a five minute drive from the city centre. It was clean, comfortable, cute, and met our needs for the time we were there quite nicely.

I would recommend it to anyone who doesn’t need to be right in the thick of things. And, really, Belfast is quite small and rather walkable, so being a twenty to thirty minute walk from downtown isn’t much of an inconvenience to most people. Plus there are some conveniences in the neighbourhood; conveniences like the nearby Eurospar at 250 Donegall Road, in case a body feels like staying in the neighbourhood for a day or two. If inclined to not even leave the apartment, there is food delivery as well.

Even though Belfast is indeed rather walkable, we would often take a car from the apartment to the centre and do our walking from there.

Even while visiting during the winter months, when the weather is brisk and the walks are sometimes a bit slippery, we put on a good number of miles almost every day. Which is something I find that we almost always do when visiting anywhere. Especially if visiting for a limited time.

I think it would be very accurate to say that, for us, travelling has always provided motivation to get a lot more exercise than we tend to get while living in Canada.

And, in Belfast, this statement certainly held true.

In a lovely old town full of interesting things do see and do, there were a few picture-worthy attractions I’ll mention. Mostly because I’m writing this post over a year after the trip, and the pictures of the city are my reminders of what we did and where we went.

A little aside here, as I occasionally engage in. Please, forgive me.

During all the time spent back in Canada, my creativity was locked up in a small, dark cage while the non creative part of my being tried to pass off a hard-working, mentally-limited, nose-to-the-grindstone, kind of dirty-hands, dull facsimile of who I really am as the real me. It got me nowhere financially, gave me tennis-elbow, and set me back in my writing by almost a year.

That won’t be happening again.

For me, trying to live the cookie-cutter, American/Canadian dream lifestyle has never worked, though I gave that dream-killer much more energy than I ever should have. I’ve always been a slow learner, but, finally, I intend to quit stumbling down that dead-end street. Forever.

But, not to disparage. I realize that that kind of lifestyle does work for some people, and if they find true happiness just living to live, and then dying, well, I’m jealous. I wish you every happiness, and may all your endeavours be successful. That lifestyle is not for me, though. I need more.

Extensive travel plans are now in the works, and possible immigration destinations are being bandied about daily between dear my bestie and myself.

Going forward, I plan on living as much of a continuous adventure as possible, and sharing many of the details of that through the medium of Nomadic Urges. The good, the bad, and the ugly. So, please, stay tuned.

Thanks for putting up with my little mini rant. Onward we go.

So, yeah, anyhooo… Belfast and stuff. Walking and things. And whatnot.

For some reason I haven’t bothered to explore, there’s an attraction by the river Lagan called Glass of Thrones. I’m sure you made the connection already. If you guessed that it’s a collection of stained glass artworks based on the wildly popular Game of Thrones story, you are correct.

Again, not sure why it’s there, but it’s cool, no matter the reason.

A person finds Glass of Thrones just across the Lagan Weir foot bridge from downtown. The bridge being a rather pretty bit of functional art in it’s own right.

A block or two before the foot bridge is an iconic Belfast landmark, known locally as Albert Clock, though it’s officially named the Albert Memorial Clock.

It’s a beautiful old clock tower that was completed in 1869, and used to be the place down by the docks where the prostitutes hung out and some of the men dressed as ladies.

Because of the fact that it’s foundation used to be wood (which, as wood does, rotted somewhat) the top of the clock tower is four feet out of plumb, due to the structure crushing the weaker side of the foundation somewhat. This failing foundation has been mostly remedied, but the leaning tower of Albert remains slightly off kilter to this day.

If a person were to walk past the leaning clock where the prostitutes used to ply their trade, down to and across the Lagan weir footbridge, stopping for a few snaps of the Glass of Thrones, before eventually getting to Queen’s Bridge (Queen Victoria II Bridge, officially), one could then (hypothetically) cross that bridge back into the downtown area.

Very close to where the bridge deposits one downtown again, it’s just a short stroll to Victoria Square and the lookout at the top of the tower there, which, on a sunny December day, offers a great view in all directions (and, almost certainly, on all other sunny days as well).

The mall at Victoria Square is rather pretty too.

After all that walking, a person may wish to go to the popular Bittles Bar, right across the lane from Victoria Square, for a wee pint, but then might be told that, no, there was no standing-room-only option, but there was the door to leave.

Pretty rude.

I may have walked in and missed a person trying to tell me that there was no space available, but I don’t recall that happening. No matter, there are plenty of other pubs in Belfast. Of that, you can be sure.

Pubs like Brennan’s, The Points, Kelly’s Cellars, White’s, and the Crown were more than happy to have us, some of them more than just once. So we made the most of the hospitality extended our way at these establishments.

Brennan’s seemed like a quieter, more relaxed place for an older crowd, but served killer fish and chips and good beer and wines.

The Points is a dive bar with live music, a lively crowd, and bathrooms that look and smell like kill rooms from whatever gritty gangster movies that might come to mind from this description. Only worse. It’s a bit of a run down, albeit huge, place where young people go to get hammered and listen to live tunes. A bit depressing, but after enough beer, liked it.

The other pubs listed were great, for the short times we stopped in, but, as I’ve mentioned previously, my dear best friend and I happened to be travelling with an ultra-stingy deadbeat, so none of these places were anywhere as fun as they will be when we return without a lame killjoy to dampen the mood.

We did want to go to McHugh’s, another Belfast icon, but, alas, it was early in the day and the pub was not yet open. Mchugh’s has a sign on it claiming it to be the oldest building in Belfast, but I also saw a similar claim on another building that is home to The Dirty Onion, so, I don’t know what to believe. It may be something akin to every country in the Balkans claiming Nikola Tesla and Mother Theresa as their own.

Whatever the truth of the matter, The Dirty Onion served absolutely wicked food, and the service was exceptional as well. I intend to go back for a full-on night of dedicated debauchery on the next visit.

Many Pubs to Crawl

On the food front, as it is a major part of every travel post I’ve ever written, I must confess that, contrary to stereotypes trumpeting the terribleness of Irish food, everywhere we ate in Belfast was fantastic. Dublin too, for that matter. The food was always very plentiful, perfectly done, and delicious.

Like, everywhere.

And the ingredients found in the shops and markets was top-notch as well.

We popped into St. George’s Market on the weekend and were absolutely delighted with all we saw and tasted. Unfortunately, we didn’t take many pictures (too busy talking and eating), but we’ll be sure to rectify that next time.

St. Georges Market is open Friday to Sunday, and has more to offer than any person could ever take in in one day. We spent so much time talking to just a few vendors that we barely got across one side of the market before it was time to head to the next destination. It’s a must for anyone staying in or near Belfast for any length of time.

There are two other exceptional food places I must note.

The first is Maggie May’s, which served an Irish breakfast to die for, and had such great service I thought we may have been teleported to Skopje, Macedonia for a moment. But hearing English being spoken in the best accent English can be heard spoken in assured me I was indeed in Belfast still. Maggie May’s was a treat, for sure.

The second spot that vends vittles was not a pub or restaurant, but a shop named Sawers, which was packed from stem to stern (barely enough room to move around) with all sorts of top-quality excellence. Not all foodstuffs, but mostly.

Although most of the time in Belfast was spend just strolling about, taking in what we could take in during our short time there, with no real itinerary or a definitive list of sights or attractions, or a plan, there were a couple things that we did set aside dedicated time to enjoy.

Ulster Museum is a five-storey (I think) gem with more exhibits and information than I could manage to take in during the three-ish hours I spent under the roof. I think I was in The Troubles exhibit alone for more than an hour. And, though I spent many hours at the museum, I have been through two phones since then, and all of the pictures I took at the time have been lost. Also, I backed nothing up to an external drive or any sort of cloud, as is my way.

All the same, it was time well spent, and for people who enjoy that sort of thing, the Ulster Museum might be something you want to put on your list of places to visit while in Belfast.

The other place we visited for the express purpose of doing only that was Belfast Castle, a fifteen minute drive almost directly north of the city centre.

We arrived to discover that there was some sort of function about to start inside the castle, so what was available for us to explore indoors was very limited. The exterior of the castle is gorgeous, though, and the sun even poked through the clouds momentarily, so we managed to get a decent look around outside and snap some good pictures.

Belfast castle is situated on a large estate grounds and has walking trails all over, which makes it a popular spot for locals in good weather. It was cold and fairly breezy on the day we visited, however, so after quickly getting our fill of being outside in the cold, we got a car to come pick us up and take us back down the hill into the city.

Belfast Castle

Being in Belfast for only a week, even during winter, and travelling with a wet towel of a human being that undeniably took what could have been at least an eight on the fun scale down to a four, my wife and I still really loved it.

The people were friendly, welcoming, and always willing to help. The food was great, the beer was plentiful, there was always something to see and do, and the overall vibe was, just… comfortable. Oh, and the area the city is in is absolutely beautiful.

Belfast is a place we will seriously be considering as a regular home for at least a few months per year, and we’re very much looking forward to returning when we don’t have a mindless, uncultured slug in tow.

Spring of 2024, perhaps? Stay tuned.

1 comment
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